THOUGHTS ON WHAT WE DO—AND WHY WE DO IT
IT STRIKES ME THAT WE CONSUME TOO MUCH—AND OBSERVE, THINK, AND DO, TOO LITTLE.—A SAD THING IN SUCH AN INTERESTING WORLD.
FROM A YOUNG AGE, I CRAVED ADVENTURE—AND FOUND IT AGAIN AND AGAIN. ADVENTURE, LET ME TELL YOU, IS NOT FOR THE FAINT HEARTED—THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT—BUT IT IS FASCINATING.
LET ME SUM UP 70 YEARS (NOT ALL WITHIN MY CONTROL—HARD TO BE A COMMAND PRESENCE WHILE STILL A TODDLER IN DIAPERS).
I HAVE LIVED AN UNCONVENTIONAL LIFE —AND GIVE THANKS EVERY DAY THAT I HAVE BEEN ABLE TO. IT HAS NOT BEEN EASY. IT HAS MADE ME NEITHER RICH (IN A MONETARY SENSE) NOR FAMOUS (EXCEPT OCCASIONALLY). BUT IT HAS BEEN A GREAT JOURNEY WHICH LEAVES ME REMARKABLY CONTENT.
I SO LOVE TO WRITE. IT HAS BROUGHT ME SATISFACTION AND JOY BEYOND IMAGINATION—AND IS, IN TRUTH, THE ULTIMATE ADVENTURE.
MY JOURNEY DOESN’T SEEM TO BE QUITE OVER. I HAVE NO DOUBT THAT THE BALANCE WILL BE AS DIFFICULT—AND AS REWARDING.
I’M AS WISE ABOUT THE MEANING OF LIFE AS I WAS WHEN I ARRIVED ON THE SCENE.
I guess my first epiphany was when I decided that a great deal of what I was told by authority figures was wrong. Often they lied (though they said it was wrong to lie), but sometimes they just didn’t know themselves. I was about nine at the time.
That finding led me to think a great deal about education. I was privileged to be attending an expensive and highly regarded private school in Yorkshire, England (such schools are confusingly called ‘public’ schools over there—as in being trained for public service—as in running the British Empire).
Did what we learn there make any sense—or was it largely arbitrary. They said we were being trained to be ‘leaders of men.’ Women, now I think about it, were never mentioned. Well, my teachers were mostly monks sworn to celibacy. Still, ignoring half the human race seemed somewhat drastic to me.
I soon came to the conclusion that much of what we were taught was arbitrary. I evolved a particular dislike of Ancient Greek. I appreciate the basics like being able to read, write, and do arithmetic—but I was largely unconvinced about much else (though I enjoyed Latin and History). It seemed to me to be mostly make-work—and at no time did we try to get to grips with the social issues which existed around us. We seemed to be missing functional expertise. We learned to kill people through military training, but we learned very little else that was of practical use (I was never taught First Aid, or how to drive while there, for example). There were clear problems and clear solutions, but few seem to be interested in relating the two. We were being educated to be a certain type of person rather than to do anything. When you are a ‘leader of men’ the idea is that you say what needs to be done—and others handle the doing. I haven’t found that life has worked out that way (And it certainly hasn’t where writing is concerned. Just as well. The doing is the fun part).
It took me some time to appreciate the power of vested interests and class assumptions—together with the fact they that they didn’t want social problems to be resolved. The status quo suited them fine. By definition you couldn’t feel upper class and superior if there were no lower classes.
I was in my early twenties, in a good job with an excellent company, when I came to the conclusion that commuting to work and back every day was unacceptable. The thought of doing this for 40 more years before retiring, playing golf, and dying struck me as being a truly hideous fate. The sentence that came to mind at the time stays with me still: Is this all there is?
It couldn’t be. It isn’t.
But what did I want? I craved adventures—without having any idea of what kind of adventures—but, above all, I wanted time to think and to live life on my own terms and at my own pace. Perhaps as a consequence of how our time was managed in boarding school (where I was sent at five—way too young) I loathed having my time filled by others—and particularly by compulsory games. I wanted time to do whatever I wished at my own pace, and on my own terms. I wasn’t against working—I was a hard worker even then. But I couldn’t stand being micro-managed. I wanted a high degree of freedom—and I wanted to create, and change, things. I didn’t know what for a time—and I certainly didn’t know how—but the urge to break new ground was ferociously strong.
I wasn’t inherently anti-social—I like most people I meet and, generally speaking, get on well with them, However, it soon struck me that many social obligations and organizations were better at reinforcing social prejudice, and killing time, than anything else. A club’s success was hugely dependent on who you kept out. Many clubs specialized in keeping out women. I thought they were nuts. I wanted women in—as accessible as possible.
I still do. Women, generally speaking, are smarter than men, and better at coping with life—and I, personally, find them much sexier. And their communication skills are superior (in all sorts of ways). They have a feeling for intimacy which males so often lack. But each to his, or her, own.
If I had to kill time—and I was far from convinced I would ever need to—I preferred to do it in my own way by reading, walking, and observing. I wanted to soak up life and then improve it. Armed with a good brain—as I am—I thought I probably could.
In some ways I already have.
I had scant interest in fame, fortune, or even security. Somehow, I had faith I would land on my feet—and if I didn’t—the downside would still be better than a secure job and daily commuting.
I have made many mistakes in my life, but I have never felt regrets about the overall direction I have chosen—unstructured though it has been. Avoiding the confines of structure has been precisely the point. I feel lucky that I had the chance. Actually, the imperative to become a writer was so strong, it less an option, than a command.
As I have said, I am not overly fond of orders, but I obeyed this one with alacrity.
The best decision of my life.
Someday, I’ll tell you why I am so attached to the word ‘meanwhile.’ It has to do with women (God love you all—subject to a few exceptions ).
VOR words 1,128.